The goat must receive

The carnival processions of maskers are not the only customs related to the period preceding Lent. In the western part of Poland, there is a characteristic ritual called podkoziołek held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. What is podkoziołek? What and why „must the goat receive”? Let us find out.

Tuesday fun

The podkoziołek tradition is connected with a dance party held on the night before Ash Wednesday. Podkoziołek has been popular in the region of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) and in parts of Kujawy (Kuyavia), Łęczyca Land and Sieradz Land. Other parts of Poland seem to not have observed this ritual.
In its earlier days, podkoziołek was the exclusive domain of single women and men – only unmarried village youth were allowed to enjoy it. During the ritual, music was paid for by the girls (each of them was supposed to both dance and pay for the enjoyment). The money was placed on a tray beside which stood a figurine of podkoziołek.

A figurine of podkoziołek made of sugar beet, near Krotoszyn, around 1930 (source: B. Stelmachowska, Podkoziołek in Polish Shrovetide rituals

The girl who paid for the dance was allowed to choose her partner. In fact, it was more of a package deal, though. The chosen young man felt obliged to pour water on the girl during the ritual of Śmigus-dyngus (Dyngus Day) on Easter Monday. Keeping the promise signalled to the girl that the interest was mutual. The following is an example of how the bachelors cheered the maids on to pay for the dances:

From the purse – don’t be worse
From the bag – please don’t lag
From the sack – we’ll be back
From the stocking – there’s no mocking
From the pouch – ain’t no grouch
Even if the girl has already paid for a dance, the cheering did not stop, as the boys were demanding to supply more dances:
Here she comes! Here she walks!
There is more!
There is store!
Out with it!
Go for it!

Here is how the last carnival ritual, including the payment for the music by the maids, was described by Oskar Kolberg:

On the last Tuesday, the youth of both sexes gather at the inn to have Podkoziołek, where all the girls, who had attended the inn parties throughout the year, should appear in the same place to pay for the music played for the dancers
O. Kolberg, DWOK, Vol. III, p. 350.

A modern podkoziołek party in Poznań organised by Dom Tańca. Photo by A. Kaźmierak

The goat must receive…

The podkoziołek ritual involves a donation that maids have to pay so that the musicians supply the necessary accompaniment. A podkoziołek song:

The songs feature an archaic Polish verb, ubodać. The word can mean to party, to banquet, to host [modern Polish biesiadować, bankietować, częstować] (according to Linde) or to make advances, to attempt, but also to have fun, to dance [modern Polish zabiegać, czynić starania, bawić się, tańczyć] (according to Lipiński and Kolberg). It is worth noting that the meaning of the word was becoming less and less comprehensible for the participants of the ritual, so in the end the performers born after 1900 found it really difficult to explain what ubodać actually meant.

We must feed the goat, the goat
It was fun to ubodać, ubodać.
No money from me, from me
I had no fun, no fun.
Not a penny from me, from me,
I had no wine, no wine.

Sung by Antczakowa (born 1886) from the village of Borzęciczki near Krotoszyn. The manuscript of the song is kept at the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Hey, the fiddler needs strings, he needs strings
If we want to ubodać, ubodać
Hey, the music needs playing, it needs playing,
To ubodać the whole year round
Sung by Maria Napierała (born 1878) from the village of Ślubów, Góra Śląska Poviat; from the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, recording number T1312/04


The name podkoziołek refers to both the figurine which was placed beside the tray, where the girls made their donations, and the annual dance party itself. Although the ritual is, indirectly, synchronised with the Catholic liturgical calendar, the podkoziołek figurine itself has nothing to do with religion. Initially, the podkoziołek figurines took the shape of a nude male figure carved out of wood. They usually showed a character endowed with disproportionately large genital organs. Subsequently, however, the figure underwent an evolution that transformed it, or only its head, into a goat (which symbolised male potency, just like the overly accentuated genitalia), hence the name podkoziołek, which might be translated as a sub-goat or a half-goat.

The podkoziołek figurine eventually disappeared and the cash tray was the only ritualistic object left at the party. Likewise, the symbolism of the ritual evolved, too. Whereas dancing in front of a nude male figure was initially meant to magically inspire both the young people’s sexual potency and the nature’s abundant vegetation, it eventually became a mere occasion to enjoy yourself and have fun at the party.

After the Second World War, married men and women began to be allowed in podkoziołek. The custom of finishing the party before midnight was not observed as strictly as it had been before, either. In the meantime, podkoziołek parties travelled to the big cities. Restaurants in the city of Poznań still try to attract their guests by advertising podkoziołek parties. Maria Dąbrowska poetically accounted for podkoziołek in her short story Szklane konie:

At Chojnacki’s store (in the big room), there were already drinkers who had come to dress the podkoziołek. They had showered their necks and arms with small bits of paper cuts. On an upturned barrel and a florid plate was a figurine portrayed as a young man adorned with small rods. Paper cut-outs of all colours were flowing from his claw-like hands – the effigy had gilded decorations and well-arranged flowers on its hat. It was jeered by the people circling it, but the scene itself was rather cheerful. It’s glowing, it’s glowing– the boys kept saying, standing in a friendly circle with glasses from which they drank with their heads tilted backwards, as if they were spilling poppy seeds into their mouths […] the drummer gently touched his drum with a brush and tried out the rhythm with a stick until he was ready and the music burst out. The violin, the double bass and the clarinet joined in and the ancient ransom song resounded. Oh the goat must receive, it must receive, if you want to ubodać for another year

Leave a Reply